Posts Tagged "Jacob Wetterling"

Jennifer’s story, part 2

Back on September 14, 2014, I shared “Jennifer’s story.” It was an article about the 22 year old female college student who was working at the Tom Thumb convenience store the night Jacob Wetterling was abducted. She was the one who had rented the movie to Jacob that night, and was the last one to see him alive before he, his friend Aaron, and his younger brother, Trevor, were stopped by a masked gunman on their way home. It’s a night that has haunted Jennifer throughout her adult life.

Though I didn’t share it at the time, there is more to Jennifer’s story… and mine. Throughout this journey, I have often mentioned the striking number of coincidences I encountered along the way, many of which kept me going when things got hard. This is one of them.

In January 2013, when I started blogging about Jacob’s case (the second time), I made the conscious decision to stick to the facts and only interview people who had a direct connection to the case. One of the people I really wanted to talk to was the clerk who had been working at the Tom Thumb that night. I had put out an appeal, asking anyone who knew her to let her know I’d be interested in talking to her. I never heard back and assumed that angle was a dead end.

Several months later, I came across an article in the CSB/SJU student newspaper from 1998 titled, “Student remembers Wetterling anniversary.” In it, the author mentioned that when she was in 5th grade, her student teacher was the clerk at the Tom Thumb that night who was the last to see Jacob.

I contacted this author and asked if she would be willing to share the clerk’s name with me. She sent me a nice reply, but said she wasn’t sure if she should share the name with me or not. She said she would think about it and get back to me.

Eight months later, in March 2014, the author wrote back to me with the name of the clerk. I thanked her and promised I would proceed with integrity and respect. From there, I was able to find Jennifer’s email address, so I contacted her to see if she might be willing to talk to me. Understandably, she was very leery. I received a brief reply, but nothing more came of it. I moved on.

Another four months went by, and in July 2014, I was chatting with my aunt Carol on Facebook. Out of nowhere, she mentioned that Jennifer and her husband had just been over to her house for dinner. I about fell off my chair. As it turns out, my aunt Carol knew Jennifer because they had a mutual friend and attended the same church. For over a year, my aunt Carol had been encouraging Jennifer to contact me on her own, gently assuring her that I was a nice, normal, trustworthy person.

Two months later, Jennifer finally agreed to talk to me. It was September 1, 2014, one day after Jacob’s story had appeared on John Walsh’s new show — “The Hunt” — on CNN. My husband and I were moving our oldest son into his college apartment at Hamline University in St. Paul, and because Jennifer didn’t live too far from there, we had made plans to meet at her house.

The first thing I noticed when I entered Jennifer’s house was a beautiful grand piano. I asked her if she played, and she told me that the piano had originally belonged to a good friend of hers who had passed away from cancer. Before she died, she had told Jennifer (who is a very talented pianist) that she wanted her to have the piano. As it turns out, this is the same friend who had known my aunt Carol.

We sat down at Jennifer’s kitchen table, and over a cup of coffee, she told me her story. It was all still very raw, and before long, we both needed Kleenex. (If you haven’t yet read “Jennifer’s story,” I encourage you to do so.)

I published Jennifer’s story on my blog on September 14, 2014. A month later, on the 25th anniversary of Jacob’s abduction, the Wetterlings invited Jared and me to stop by their house so we could meet the rest of their family. It was the first time Jared and I had ever met any of the Wetterling children or their grandchildren. The whole day was hard, and emotional, and hugely impactful.

Then… the very next day… my aunt Carol died of a heart attack.

It was sudden and jolting and it knocked my whole world off kilter. Carol had been like a second mom to me when I was a little girl, and for as long as I can remember, she had lovingly fostered my love of reading and writing. I was asked to speak at her funeral, so within a few days, I found myself giving the eulogy at my aunt Carol’s church, with Jennifer and her family sitting in the congregation.

How do you explain these things?

Since that time, Jennifer and I have become friends. When the news broke early on September 3rd that Jacob’s remains had been found, it was Jennifer who called me first. We both cried, barely able to get words out. It had been almost two years to the day that we had first met.

Two weeks ago, Jennifer and I met again, this time to participate in the “Running HOME for Jacob 5K” at Lake Phalen Golf Course in St. Paul. It was the first-ever 5K for the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center and by all accounts, it was a resounding success. When they first organized the event over a year ago, they were hoping to get 250 participants. At last count, I believe the total was over 2,100.

There were many magical moments throughout the day, not the least of which was the weather. Saturday, October 22, 2016 was a perfect fall day in Minnesota with highs in the mid-60s, no wind, and beautiful fall colors as far as the eye could see. It was the 27th anniversary of Jacob’s abduction, and what would have been a very hard day for the Wetterlings and for our state, turned into something fun, positive, and healing for everyone who was in attendance.

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Jennifer and me, October 22, 2016

Jennifer and me, October 22, 2016

Another magical moment happened at the end of the race. I took this video just as the entire Wetterling family was crossing the finish line. I happened to glance at the time, and if you can even believe it, the Wetterlings all crossed the finish line together at exactly 11:11 AM.

 

And then this. After 27 years, Jennifer, Aaron, and Trevor got to meet each other for the first time since that night in the Tom Thumb back in 1989. It was exactly 27 years to the day.

 

Trevor, Jennifer, Aaron

Trevor, Jennifer, Aaron

Jennifer shared these thoughts about the day:

Twenty-seven years ago tonight, these boys walked into the store where I was working. Trevor, Aaron, and their friend and brother Jacob Wetterling. I rented Jacob a video and sold him some candy. He was taken a few minutes later.

One trait to honor and remember Jacob with is “Be kind”. With everyone. As often as you can. We don’t know our futures.

Hope is one thing we have and cling to. Hope was watching people show up today to support the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center with the first 5K. Jerry Wetterling told us they were hoping for a few hundred, and more than two thousand showed up.

Jacob, your traits are everyone’s hope. I’ve known your story longer than I’ve been married, been a teacher, or been a mom. You’ve taught me, and us, so much. Rest in peace.

Such powerful words… such a powerful moment. Peace to everyone involved, and special thanks to the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center for helping make all these magical moments happen on what would have otherwise been a very sad day.

#11forJacob

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For Jacob

jacob-picture-11-yrToday is Saturday, September 17, 2016. It’s been eleven days since I sat in that courtroom at the U.S. District Courthouse in Minneapolis and heard Danny Heinrich confess to the kidnapping and murder of Jacob Wetterling.

It’s been eleven days, and I still can’t think about it without crying.

Admittedly, I’ve been through some hard stuff in my lifetime. In 1999, two of my closest friends each lost a child. Cody was ten years old when he was struck and killed by a car while biking. Emma was two years old when she died from a cancerous brain tumor. As moms and friends, we clung to each other for strength and support. We questioned fate and silently waged our own battles with God. All of it was devastating and traumatizing. It changed who we were, forever.

But this. How do you explain this? It has taken me eleven days to get a grip, and still, I cry every time I think of that day. I sat there, three rows behind Patty, and had to listen to what that horrible man did to her son. I had to close my eyes through most of it, tears streaming down my face. I questioned why I had even come. I felt sick, wanted to leave… couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

Then, when Heinrich finished his confession about Jacob, he moved on to Jared. In chilling detail, he confessed what he had done to that scared 12 year old boy who has since become a close friend. Until that moment, I don’t think I fully appreciated how lucky Jared is to be alive.

After it was over, I couldn’t take anymore. I bolted. I didn’t stay for the press conference… I just couldn’t. I left and drove to my parents’ house where I crumbled into my mother’s arms. Even at 49, I needed her to hug me and make the world right again. We hugged and cried, then she made me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich… toasted… just how I like it. Later, she poured me a glass of wine and we cried some more.

Since that horrible day in the courtroom, I’ve struggled to make sense of everything that’s happened over the past few weeks… months… years. I look back over the entire journey and question how I ever ended up on this road in the first place. What started as mere curiosity eventually became a battle of faith and purpose. I plodded along, never knowing exactly where I was headed and wanting to quit more often than I care to admit.

Why? For Jacob.

This boy… this eleven year old boy that I’ve never met… captured my soul. He captured all of our souls with his smiling face, his yellow sweater, and his youthful innocence. He was a symbol for all that was right with the world… our world. It was a world of backyard sleepovers, bomb pops, and neighborhood water fights. Saturday cartoons, Vikings football, and Labor Day telethons. It was good, and predictable, and fun.

And then, on that awful day in 1989, our good and predictable world slipped away. We bumbled around, lamenting fate, losing faith, and becoming bitter. As the days melted into months, it seemed all hope had been lost. But then, a warrior emerged. She was a warrior who was willing to fight for our world… for bomb pops and water fights. She was tiny, but fierce, and we clung to her words, because she spoke of hope and change. If she was willing to fight, then by God, we would follow her into battle.

screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-1-20-23-pmAnd follow, we did. We marveled at this tiny warrior and all that she stood for. She became Super Mom to us. She grew and effected change that rippled well beyond the borders of our own little state. She helped write powerful legislation that would eventually make the entire country safer for children. She fought, and she fought, and she fought, never once losing sight of her ultimate goal… to find her missing son.

Jacob, I never knew you, but I do know you came from good stuff. You must be so very proud of your mom. Her drive has always been fueled by hope, and she has fought tirelessly for the world you used to know. In fighting for you, she fought for all of us, every day. Looking back, I have to believe you’ve had a hand in all that’s transpired here. In your short eleven years, you also fought for what was right and fair. Today and forever, we will honor your legacy by trying to do the same.

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
–Genesis 50:20

(Thank you sueney65 for passing that along.)

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It’s over.

On Friday, September 2nd, law officials discovered the remains of Jacob Wetterling on a farm in Paynesville, Minnesota. Law officials were led there by Danny Heinrich, who was named a person of interest in Jacob’s case back on October 29, 2015 after being arrested on child pornography charges.

After nearly 27 years… it’s over.

MplsStarTrib_9-4-2016I’ve dreamed about this day for years. What would the headlines say? What would the public’s response be? How would the people of St. Joseph react?

Now that it’s here… now that Jacob has finally been found… there is no joy… just deep and profound sadness for this 11 year old boy who touched all our hearts for so many years. Yes, we have answers and, in time, that will bring peace. But for now it all just feels very raw and real.

Truth be told, I’m a wreck.

I was drawn to write about Jacob’s case for reasons I’ll never fully understand. The more I learned, the more I cared. The more I cared, the more I craved answers. Like every other Minnesotan who lived through the horror of his abduction, I wanted to know what happened to Jacob. And with each passing moment, it felt like time and opportunity were slipping away. I thought if I could just get his story out there, people might start paying attention. Maybe they could even add details that might help. More than anything, I just didn’t want people to forget.

I published my first blog post about Jacob’s story on October 23, 2010, one day after the 21st anniversary of his abduction. Read “Where are you Jacob?”…

After three weeks, I wrapped up Jacob’s story and may never have come back to it if it wasn’t for an email I received on January 18, 2013… over two years later. It read:

Hello Joy – My name appears in your articles. I’m working to clear lots of wrong info out there about me. Are you curious or do you care…?
Thanks…. if so…send a tele#?
– Dan Rassier

I wasn’t sure if I should reply or not, but there was one thing I did know. Yes… I cared. So, I emailed Dan back and we agreed to meet at 6:30pm at the St. Cloud Library on Tuesday, January 29, 2013. Had it not been for Dan getting in touch with me and sharing his story, I likely would never have gotten back to blogging about Jacob. I published Dan’s story on February 23, 2013, and since then, I’ve blogged about little else. Read Dan’s story…

This weekend, when I learned that Jacob had been found, I emailed Dan to let him know I was thinking of him. I wanted him to know that, for what it was worth, I had always believed him. I wished him and his family peace… they surely deserve it. He sent a very kind reply which meant a lot to me.

Over the past few days, I have been receiving emails, texts and phone calls from reporters all over the state, and even the country. There is one in particular who deserves a lot of credit in this amazing journey of discovery, and that is Esme Murphy from WCCO. She was the first person to really pay attention to what Jared and I were doing in Paynesville, and she contacted me shortly after I published my first blog post about the Paynesville attacks. It was October 22, 2013… the 24th anniversary of Jacob’s abduction. Not long after, Jared and I agreed to do an interview with Esme, which aired on May 14, 2014. See the interview…

I’d also like to acknowledge the countless others who have played a major role in this journey. I have received thousands of comments and private messages on my blog, along with hundreds of phone calls and texts from people passing along tips or suggestions about the case. I diligently organized and passed them along to law enforcement, never knowing if one of them might turn out to be the “the piece” that solved the puzzle. Thank you to everyone who cared, got involved, and took the initiative to pass those tips along. Who knows what may have been helpful along the way.

But without question, the one person who absolutely made the difference in bringing Jacob home was Jared Scheierl. He was the 12 year old boy from Cold Spring who was abducted and assaulted just nine months before Jacob. When I decided to dig back into this story back in early 2013, I wanted to focus on people who had a direct connection to the case. One of the people I knew I wanted to interview was Jared. I found him through ancestry records and then contacted him through Facebook. I never in a million years thought he would reply to my message. To this day, I am so very grateful that he did. Read Jared’s story…

Jared is one of the kindest and bravest people I know. He has become a good friend, and we have been through a lot together over the past three and a half years. When we first learned about the Paynesville attacks that took place in the late 1980s, it was Jared who willingly put himself out there, reaching out to victims and sharing his own story so that they might, in turn, be wiling to share their own. Without Jared, this story would never have unfolded the way it did. His enthusiasm and dogged determination were contagious. We found ourselves driven to find answers, not only for Jared and the Wetterlings, but also for all those young men who were never truly heard. The more we learned, the bigger it felt. Without knowing why, we were convinced that the Paynesville incidents were somehow important to the bigger picture.

In the end, it all came back to Paynesville… Jared’s hometown. The story started there, and it ended there. Jacob was found in Paynesville… a town just 15 miles up the road from me. Fifteen miles. He was buried in a spot that I have driven past countless times in my lifetime, never knowing that he was RIGHT THERE this whole time. Jacob and Jared were together in the same small town for the past 26 years.

How do you put words to that?

As hard as it is to give any credit to Danny Heinrich in this story, I’m just so incredibly grateful that, in the end, he did the right thing. Because of him, the healing can finally begin for the Wetterling family, and for the entire state. We have hurt, and hoped, and prayed alongside them for almost 27 years. Today, it’s finally over.

The Wetterlings have become like family to me, and I love them dearly. They are good, kind people who have changed the world because of their undying dedication to their missing son. Patty, especially, has worked tirelessly to fight for children’s rights, to educate parents, to train law enforcement, and to spread a message of love and hope that has resonated with us for all these 27 years. She did it for Jacob… Jacob’s Hope.

Today, I continue to pray for the Wetterlings. I’m sure there will be many more hard days to face in the weeks and months to come, but with answers, I hope they can finally start to grieve and heal. I will be forever grateful to them for believing in me.

#ThinkingJacob
#JacobsHope

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Happy Birthday Jacob

Tomorrow, February 17, 2016, will mark Jacob Wetterling’s 38th birthday. With permission, I’m sharing a special birthday message, written by his mom, Patty.

#ThinkingJacob

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Happy Birthday Jacob!

IMG_1397_revBirthdays are supposed to be about parties, hats and noisemakers, cake, ice cream, friends singing and making wishes but not yet. Not this year, again. How I wish to wrap my arms around you and hug you tight! I have watched the tape of your last birthday party over and over. We rented a suite at the Holiday Inn for your party. You and Aaron raced back and forth in the pool and took turns throwing each other in the deep end. It was so much fun!

I want you to know that since you were stolen away from us, people everywhere have been searching, praying and hoping for your safety and for answers. Last fall, 26 years later, news of possible answers had your story as the number two news coverage in the region. That’s pretty amazing 26 years later. People care. There are more good people than bad in the world and people still hope.

My birthday wish is for you to come home. We need to find you. I have another wish for every child who is home safe today, that they will never have to endure abduction or sexual exploitation of any type. We are working just as hard on prevention as we are on searching because this is so wrong… so unfair. I remember how much it bothered you when things were unfair. Me too, it bothers me too.

I am hoping and praying that people will remember you on February 17 and we ask that everyone hug their kids a little tighter, tell them that they love them and take time to play a game or read books. My wish is also that parents will support agencies that help to find our missing kids and help other victims. Today, we ask everyone to volunteer, attend events, send financial support and share safety information. The non-profit work continues on a daily basis. Sometimes sexual exploitation and abduction are on the news, and sometimes not, yet we all rely on the support and expertise of these agencies when we need them. They are there for us. They need our support as well.

And once again today, February 17, we will light our candles, fix your favorite foods and cake, and thank God for the gift of you.
We love you Jacob and we’ll never stop searching for you!
I so wish for a happy birthday for you…

Mom
Patty Wetterling

For more information, visit:

Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, www.JWRC.org

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, www.missingkids.org

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“Catch Me If You Can”

I have some new information to share about the wood-paneled station wagon that I just learned about this past weekend. If you recall, this is the car that was seen by the young teens who used to ride their dirt bikes and 4-wheelers through the woods near Jacob’s abduction site. The gentleman I spoke to this weekend was also a part of this group, and he had a few more interesting tidbits to share about the station wagon and the man in the woods.

First of all, I believe we have two different sightings here, possibly three. As I reported in my original post titled, “The men in the woods,” this group of boys saw an older man with a notebook sitting off in the brush, just inside the entrance to the woods. They didn’t think much of it and proceeded on to the party pit to have a quick smoke. On their way out, they saw him again. He had moved closer to them at that point, and they wondered if maybe he had been following them.

Another member of this group reported seeing another man in the woods… this time up in a tree. He said he was younger and thinner than the first man. He wore a baseball cap and had a clipboard. The boys saw the man while they were riding their dirt bikes through the woods that day. Later, they noticed him again, but this time he had moved to a different tree. Weird.

The gentleman I spoke to this weekend had more to add to the story. He used to live south of St. Ben’s, just off College Avenue. He says he and his friends used to ride their dirt bikes and four-wheelers in those woods nearly every day. He also remembers seeing a guy up in a tree, but the man he remembers seeing was older, possibly in his 50s. He was wearing a blaze orange hat and was definitely not an art student. This guy seemed out of place, like he didn’t belong there, and none of the kids had ever seen him before.

There are two interesting things this young man was able to add to the story. First, he says there was a field road that ran from College Avenue (just across from the cemetery) all the way over to 16th/91st Avenue. It ran along the south end of Klinefelter Park and was a straight shot all the way to the abduction site. Another interesting thing this guy remembers is about the car. On the day he saw it, it was parked just off 16th/91st Avenue on the approach/field road which would later become Dale Street. He remembers the car being light blue, possibly a station wagon, but he couldn’t remember if it had wood panels or not. What he DOES remember seems significant. The car had two distinct bumper stickers. One said something about Ole and Lena; the other said, “Catch Me If You Can.”

OK… back it up a bit.

1989-catch-me-if-you-can-poster1Catch Me If You Can was a Hollywood movie that was filmed in the St. Cloud area during the fall of 1988. It was directed by Stephen Sommers, a St. Cloud native, and pre-premiered there on August 24, 1989. It’s a low-budget “muscle car” film about a group of high school teens who are trying to raise money and save their school by betting on illegal car races. Much of the footage was filmed at Apollo and Cathedral High Schools, and included several local residents who served as extras in the movie. The film officially premiered to a national audience on October 14, 1989, just eight days before Jacob’s abduction. (Click the movie poster on the right to read more about the film.)

The interesting thing is… two months after Jacob’s abduction, police asked for the public’s help in finding a station wagon with a “Catch Me If You Can” bumper sticker that was seen near the Wetterling’s residence in the days just prior to Jacob’s abduction.

All three of the following newspaper articles were published on December 22, 1989:

From the St. Cloud Times:

The Jacob Wetterling Task Force also is trying to find a suspicious car that was seen in the St. Joseph area about a week before Jacob, 11, was seized Oct. 22 at gunpoint.

The car recently came to authorities’ attention after residents of an apartment building near the Wetterlings said they had seen the car parked for most of a day. Because it was about two months ago, they couldn’t provide an exact day, Gigler said.

The car is described as a dark brown, four-door station wagon dating to 1970. It had a luggage rack and considerable rust on the fender and doors. The car reportedly had a black and orange sticker that said “Catch Me If You Can.” The movie was filmed in the St. Cloud area and premiered here last summer.

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

In another development yesterday, investigators were trying to locate a 1970s-model full-sized four-door station wagon seen three days before Jacob’s abduction on the rural road where he was kidnapped.

The dark brown station wagon is said to have a luggage rack and a missing molding on the passenger side. A rear bumper sticker reads, “Catch me if you can,” an apparent reference to the title of a movie shot two years ago in St. Cloud.

“We feel that with the bumper sticker it’s a local vehicle,” Gigler said. A bulletin was sent yesterday to alert police agencies to look for the car.

From the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

In a related development, authorities said they are looking for a full-size, brown, 1970s 4-door model station wagon seen in the woods west of the Wetterling abduction site three days before the kidnapping. The car did not belong to anyone in the neighborhood and police want to question its owner, Gigler said.

The wagon had a luggage rack, missing body molding on the passenger side and a rear bumper sticker that read, “Catch Me If You Can,” a reference to a movie of the same name filmed in St. Cloud. The movie previewed in St. Cloud this August, leading police to believe the car belongs to an area resident. St. Cloud is about 6 miles east of St. Joseph.

I’m unclear whether this lead about the station wagon came from the boys who witnessed the man/men in the woods, or if it came from another source. I’m curious whether the “dark brown” station wagon was confused with the “dark brown wood panels” that the boys remember.

At any rate, my main question is this. Where did these bumper stickers come from? Were they handed out at the private premiere in August? Or, maybe later, at the public premiere on October 14th? Or, maybe they were handed out during the filming of the movie, back in November of 1988? Where were they printed? Where were they distributed? At the high schools? Movie theaters? Convenience stores? Does anyone else remember getting or having one of these bumper stickers? If we can figure out that much, maybe we can figure out where the driver of the car got his bumper sticker.

And one more question… does anyone know which apartment building the police were talking about in the St. Cloud Times article above? If this is the same station wagon that the boys saw down by the woods, I wonder what he was doing at that apartment building. Did he live there? Or was he just staying with an acquaintance?

A little help here… please comment!

#ThinkingJacob

NEXT: A wilderness trek for Jacob…

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